Monday, March 22, 2010
Can we please put the horse to bed?
Mind if I vent for one post?
Well, if you do, please feel free to go away & come back in a day or two. Because really, this is one ridiculously tiny thing that left me slightly perturbed, in the middle of a couple of very interesting events that I attended last week (namely, the mapping meeting on Tuesday night & the maritime professionals evening at the South Street Seaport). I really enjoyed both & was very glad that I'd managed to manage my workload in such a way that I was able to go. The material was all engaging, well presented, forward-looking, made a person feel good about the Hudson's history & future. Sort of inspirational at times. I hope to have time to come back to those!
So with all the inspiration & interesting stuff, it was a bit of a bummer to overhear one of those inspirational speakers trot out that tired old chestnut about people taking kayaks on the working Hudson being just like people taking horses on the highway.
I first saw that in a Times article written somewhere around a decade ago, back when I first started paddling. It wasn't the same guy back then. I really thought that particular horse story had long since been put to bed, but apparently it's still out there kicking around.
I didn't feel like calling the guy on it. I have mixed emotions on the topic myself, honestly. I've seen people out there doing some pretty silly things in kayaks. I've done some pretty silly things out there in kayaks myself. I think anyone that's been boating (in any kind of boat) on the Hudson for very long can remember at least one time when they made somebody sweat bullets - themselves, if no one else. Happens to the best of us, and it not unique to kayakers at all. Still -- the horse-on-a-highway scenario? It just doesn't paint a very accurate picture, and I think that it would behoove us to put that particular simile out to pasture.
Failing that, maybe next time I hear somebody make that argument, I'll just ask if a few minor adjustments could be made to the highway concept, just to make it a better reflection of the situation as it actually exists on our urban waterways. Ready? Here we go:
1. Imagine that the highway was carved by Pleistocene-era glaciers.
2. Imagine that the highway is simultaneously being used by semis, minivans, Formula One racers, model T fords, bicycles, mopeds, that thing Jack Black drove in Nacho Libre, school buses, motorcycles antique & new, large hotels that have somehow become mobile, vintage Bugattis, VW Bugs, Australian road trains, beat-up old pickups, clown cars and oh yes, some horses.
3. Imagine that the highway is a mile across, with one fairly wide lane right down the middle. The semis and the road trains have to stay in that one. Everybody else is allowed to go in whatever direction they need to or want to, within the constraints of the rules of the road (see point 4).
4. Imagine that the rules of the road were written specifically to address all of the interactions between the between all the different vehicles (see point 2) travelling in all the different directions (see point 3).
And last but not least -
5. Imagine the horses were there first!
Grant me all that, and I will readily agree that taking a kayak on the Hudson is EXACTLY like taking a horse on the highway!!!
Thus endeth the rant.
Please be aware that my tongue has at least partway planted in cheek (otherwise there wouldn't have been as many bad horse puns) for this post. I do need to get serious here at the end, though. I do want to mention, in the guy's defense - he wasn't saying that kayaks should be banned in NYC entirely, he was just saying that there are places where it doesn't make a whole lot of sense for a person to be hanging out in a kayak. I completely agree with him on that point. The question is, do you really want to flout the Public Trust Doctrine & carve out industry-only areas to keep recreational craft from causing problems, when there are already rules (and, one can at least hope, common sense) that should do the same thing? Furthermore, there were some interesting points made at the Tuesday night mapping meeting about the frustration that members of the professional maritime industry feel as their workplaces are gradually being turned over to developers & recreation (Exhibit A: Todd Shipyard Graving Dock).
I think anyone can respect that, even if we don't always like the way it's expressed.